Kin (gold) – was it really so golden a year? Japan won a record 27 gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer, which explains the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation’s choice of kin as kanji of the year, but other observers emerge from the past 12 months in a less glittering mood.
Spa! (Dec 14-21), instead of summing things up in a single character, serves up a list of hit phrases, as they might be called. Every year spawns them. Here this year and gone the next, culled largely from social media, they are as expressive as they are ephemeral. Leading the list of Olympic allusions is not gold but a sarcastic shot at Yoshiro Mori, whose resignation in disgrace as head of the Games organizing committee was one of numerous pre-Games scandals lowering the tone of an event plagued to begin with by a pandemic that refused to leave the stage. Mori’s open contempt for women, expressed in such comments as, "If we increase the number of female (committee) board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” was deemed in serious contravention of the Olympic spirit, with its stress on human dignity.
Spa! is by and large not an optimistic magazine. COVID-19, poverty, anxiety and hopelessness are persistent themes. They dominate the list. “Ghost hospital beds” is a sharp bit of irony. Japan has more hospital beds per capita than any other country. Why were virus-infected people being turned away, particularly in the “third wave” that hit early in the year, killing an estimated 100 a day? The beds were there – in small hospitals unequipped for the task at hand. And so a first-world, first-rate medical establishment sank for a critical time to third-world capacity,
“Tower mansions” – high-rise condominiums – increasingly dominate Japan’s urban skyline. Closer to ground level is what’s become known as a “gap society.” The widening gap between the very rich and the very poor, the middle class between them shrinking, is a grave social concern. The poor look up to the top stories and muse, “They must need oxygen masks up there.”
There are many “gaps” in Japan. The rich-poor gap generates an education gap – rich children tend to be better education – which perpetuates the rich-poor gap into the next generation. Spa! identifies a “remote gap” – the rich better equipped for remote work and remote study; therefore better equipped to survive the pandemic, which imposes both remotes on rich and poor alike.
Another neologism: “menstrual poverty,” a reference to women driven to stringent household economies that make sanitary napkins an unaffordable luxury.
A sense of futility is palpable as one runs down the list. “I should never have been born” is a recurring lament from workers who’ve lost jobs or earnings due to the pandemic. In the same vein: “I am useless.” More extreme still, characteristic of mostly elderly people sidelined and bewildered by rapid digitalization: “Is there anything left for me to do but die?”
A gold year for some, no doubt. It just depends on how you look at things.© Japan Today